Once again, The Handmaid’s Tale dedicates an episode to events absent from the novel. It’s good television, but it’s not as strong as the previous installments.

Title: “A Woman’s Place”

Cast and Crew
Director: Floria Sigismondi
Writer: Wendy Straker Hauser, from the novel by Margaret Atwood

Elisabeth Moss as Offred / June
Joseph Fiennes as Commander Fred Waterford
Yvonne Strahovski as Serena Joy Waterford
Zabryna Guevara as Mrs. Castillo
Ann Dowd as Aunt Lydia
Christian Barillas as Mr. Flores
Alexis Bledel as Ofglen
Max Minghella as Nick
Amanda Brugel as Rita
Ever Carradine as Naomi Putnam
Todd Thomas Dark as Commander Derek Chambers
Edie Inksetter as Aunt Elizabeth
James Kay as Guardian Officer
Nina Kiri as Alma
Stephen Kunken as Commander Putnam
Glen Schultz as Commander Glen Cooper
Joe Vercillo as Guardian

Premise

Serena Joy recalls the early days that helped establish Gilead, and her own complicity. In the present (future?), the Commander and others entertain a delegation from Mexico. We learn that the infertility plague appears to be global, and Mexico seeks to trade for a particular commodity.

High Point

Serena Joy helped plan the society that constricts her—though she will not acknowledge its shortcomings openly. Yvonne Strahovski does an excellent job of playing the character’s dilemma without overplaying it.

The Mexican delegation includes a woman who tries to convince herself Gilead isn’t as bad as it seems, and anyway, it’s another country. You know, the way we accept the massive violation of human rights and basic humanity so long as it happens in countries that supply us with things we need. The slope these people stand on is as slippery as if covered in oil.

Low Point

Certain aspects of this week feel a little too forced, a little too television after what has come before. The pre-Commander whispers openly about plans to take out congress with violence while seated in a crowded public place. Offred finally speaks the truth to the Mexicans and makes explicit themes we couldn’t miss. In cliff-hanger-like fashion, we learn in the final moments, and under slightly far-fetched circumstances, that Luke remains alive, and Offred can get a message to him. These moments fall a little short of the standard set by the series.

The Scores:

Originality: 4/6 We have another episode this week that develops storylines absent from the original novel. Atwood only hints at Serena Joy’s background and Gilead’s origins, through Offred’s limited point of view. Here we see much more of these events, though the show’s Serena Joy is quite different from the novel’s. And while the novel’s Gilead engages in international trade (and Jezebel’s is forthcoming on the series), we don’t have the kind of developments we see here.

Effects: 3/6 We have a lot of basic, but effective makeup this week.

Acting: 5/6

Story: 5/6

Emotional Response: 5/6

Production: 6/6

Overall: 5/6 Did anyone else imagine Children of Men taking place simultaneously on the other side of the Atlantic?

In total, “A Woman’s Place” receives 33/42